Contraband (refugee) camp registers have their equivalent in earlier lists or logs of enslaved people including the Book of Negroes, attention to which was brought more than a decade ago by novelist Lawrence Hill in Someone Knows My Name (2007, HarperCollins).
The novel tells of slave-turned-activist Aminata Diablo, Meena Dee, who is stolen from the village of Bayo in Africa. Diablo offers her narrative that includes enslavement by more than one master, as an abolitionist act. Author Lawrence Hill references the Book of Negroes, a eighteenth-century document containing names of African-American slaves who fought for the British army during the American Revolution.
The Book of Negroes “is the largest single document about black people in North America up until the end of the eighteenth century. It contains the names and details of 3,000 black men, women and children…”
Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill (2007, HarperCollins)
With slave logs, names of American bondsmen and women were etched into history. However, the fact that these documents exist does not mean that they are present in American memory. Systematically kept under the rug–the fabric of American progress–they have neither served as evidence for possible arguments for reparations–to whom would we pay them asked Senator Mitch McConnell recently–nor as concrete reminders of the human atrocity of owning people.
LastRoad views slave registers, as well as inventory lists, and other enumeration of enslaved people as the most realistic way to assist African Americans today in reconstructing their blood relations, of locating their families during the slave era, and the most realistic way also of revealing European families in America who owned slaves.
In this digital Book of Negroes page, we will trace in narrative form, and we will display graphically migration of European surnames as descendants of slave owners moved throughout the South.
Contrary to McConnell’s pragmatism that denies present complicity, LastRoad takes the position that America’s economic might was built upon slave economy and that conspicuous absence of slavery from American memory fuels economy today. Further, we contend that ignoring–in the digital era–existence of voluminous records that give evidence of this form of capital is egregiously irresponsible. If slavery was inhumane, ignoring its history is suggestive of the same.
LastRoad maintains that information is freedom. Sensitive information is not less so. Full disclosure implies an end of American innocence concerning this history.
The BON (Book of Names): Toward Archival Justice
For centuries, names of African-American enslaved people were counted as inventory of capital. Now, on this site, their names are being counted both to honor them and to hold a nation that prides itself on freedoms accountable.
The names that appear here in the BOOK OF NAMES are extracted from contraband camp registers. In some cases the names of slave owners disclosed by their former bondspeople are not the same as the names freedpeople took themselves, but in most cases the names of owners are the same and, therefore, lead hopeful descendants back to sometimes many sites of their ancestors’ enslavement.
In the BON, only surnames will be listed. Users can check the Registers page for complete names (given and surname). Our purpose in focusing on last name only is ultimately to trace movement of slave-owning families within the U.S and to be able to determine, based on the registers, movement of African Americans from stated locales to contraband camps. We are less interested in the movement of one slave owner, per se, than in the spread of slavery, the movement of white family groups, in many directions. While this goal can be attained by studying individuals (and we will do that elsewhere), here, we are interested in a bigger picture.